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difference between chronic disorganization and hoarding

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The Difference Between Chronic Disorganization and Hoarding

May 1, 2022

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Hello, I'm Jen
As a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization® (CPO-CD®), I am uniquely qualified with the knowledge and experience to help you with ADHD issues, hoarding, chronic disorganization, and aging. 


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Chronic disorganization and hoarding disorder both fall on the spectrum of organization (or disorganization), but they are different. By understanding the difference between both, you’ll be better informed on how to find the right help for yourself or loved ones. 

While chronic disorganization and hoarding disorder can both result in a cluttered space, the diagnosis for each has different factors. Hoarding disorder  is primarily due to emotional attachment to belongings and difficulty to separate oneself from items due to emotional distress. Many who are affected by hoarding disorder are unaware that it’s an issue. 

Those who are affected by chronic disorganization (CD) aren’t necessarily emotionally attached to their belongings. They are disorganized for years and it affects their lifestyle. Unlike those who have hoarding disorder, those affected by CD have tried to get organized multiple times but have failed each time. 

In today’s blog, we will go over the difference between the two in-depth along with cause, symptoms, and treatment options. 

Difference Between Hoarding Disorder and Chronic Disorganization 

What is a hoarding disorder?  

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), used by clinicians and psychiatrists nationwide to diagnose those affected by mental disorders, those affected with hoarding disorder meet all three factors: 

  1. Collect and keep a lot of items regardless of actual value 
  1. Extreme difficulty getting rid of belongings due to supposed need to save items and experience emotional distress (ex. anxiety, nervousness) when thinking of or parting with items 
  1. Difficulty of parting with items results in accumulation of possessions that clutter active living spaces and prevents them from being used as intended. 

Hoarding disorder can become uncontrollable and affect your loved one’s day to day live and welfare without them realizing how bad it has become because they feel safe with their items. 

Due to lack of purging, they are unable to do simple tasks like cooking, showering, or even having a clear walkway through their home. Their hoarded home becomes really dangerous because it affects the livelihood of people in the home and those living nearby. 

What is Chronic Disorganization? 

Unlike hoarding disorder, those who are affected by chronic disorganization don’t have to be emotionally attached to their belongings or have a need to buy and save all their items. CD is also not something mentioned in the DSM handbook, but it does affect many people. 

According to the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, CD is defined by three key factors: 

  1.  Your chronic disorganization has persisted over a long period of time
  2.  Disorganization frequently sabotages your quality of life 
  3.  No matter how many times you’ve tried to help yourself, you’re still disorganized 

Chronic disorganization doesn’t only apply to clutter in the home, but also disorganization in other aspects of life. Being frequently late to work, missing deadlines, and having poor sense of time are common to see in those affected by CD. 

When you’re affected by CD, you’re usually aware you can be more organized, but you don’t know how to start or stay organized.  

Note: CD is different from situational disorganization. Situational disorganization which is short-term disorganization due to big changes in life such as a job change, move, or the death of a loved one. 

Who’s More Likely to Be Affected by Hoarding or Chronic Disorganization?

Who Can Be Affected by Hoarding? 

Hoarding disorder can affect anyone at any age. But compared to young adults between the ages of 34-44, it’s 3x more likely to be seen in people over the age of 55. Symptoms can begin to emerge in children as young as 11 years old.

The hoarding disorder is not due to genetics. The cause of hoarding is unknown, but it’s common for those growing up in a family of hoarders to be affected and become “hoarders” themselves. It’s also common to see hoarding disorder paired with other illnesses like anxiety and/or depression. 

Who Can Be Affected by Chronic Disorganization? 

Similar to hoarding disorder, CD isn’t passed down through genetics. It can also be learned from a family environment growing up. 

CD can affect anyone, but it’s more common in people with the following conditions

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Chronic pain, like MS or Fibromyalgia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) 
Hoarding kitchen before photo

Hoarding vs. Chronic Disorganization Symptoms 

What Are Symptoms of Hoarding? 

Noticing early symptoms of hoarding disorder allows you to help your loved one get access to proper care early on. Like a snowball, the following symptoms can begin small, but can grow overtime and become an issue: 

  1. Having a difficult time getting rid of items even if they are deemed useless by most people
  2. Clutter makes it difficult to move through the house 
  3. Lots of shopping and collecting free things even if there is no space available
  4. Unorganized piles that frequently tip over 
  5. Unable to fully access and use rooms in their homes (ex. bathroom or kitchen)
  6. Excessive build up of items that lead to health and fire hazards 
  7. Not understanding how severe the problem is 

It’s important to talk to a professional for proper diagnosis because having a few of these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean you have hoarding disorder. Just like having a cough doesn’t mean you necessarily have strep throat. 

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Disorganization?

If you’re affected by CD, you’ll find yourself getting distracted by tasks and projects, have multiple unfinished projects, be late for meetings and appointments, and have a wide range of activities.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself right now: 

  • Do you accumulate material items, documents, papers, and other possessions?
  • Do you struggle with letting go of things?
  • Do you have clutter throughout your home or office?
  • Do you get concerned at the thought of people visiting your home?
  • Do you struggle with time management?
  • Do you feel like you are in a constant state of disorder?
  • Do you get distracted easily?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed when you think about the clutter in your life?
  • Do you have a list of incomplete projects?

If you said yes to all the questions above, you may be affected by CD. Be sure to speak with a professional organizer who specializes in working with CD to learn more and help you on your journey. 

Hoarding kitchen after photo

Treatment for Hoarding Disorder vs. Chronic Disorganization

Getting Treatment for Hoarding Disorder

Just removing the clutter won’t work. Unlike shows you may have seen, having a team of people clean out your loved one’s home without consent or agreement isn’t the best way to get to the root of the problem. 

Removing clutter doesn’t solve hoarding or treat hoarding disorder at its core. Imagine trying to treat drug addicts by tossing out their drugs. They will just find other ways to obtain more drugs and hide them from you or in this case, more items. 

Because of the emotional attachment to their belongings, it’s important to not toss items without their knowledge. By doing so, you’re losing their trust and threatening your relationship, because they don’t see their hoarding as a problem.

Removing clutter without the person being aware can result in disaster — feeling angry, resentful, and betrayed. It can make them more reclusive and depressed resulting in delayed treatment. 

The best way to treat those who are affected by hoarding disorder is to work with a trained psychiatrist/therapist who specializes in hoarding disorder to shed light on the root of the disorder. 

Alongside the psychiatrist/therapist, work with a professional organizer who specializes in hoarding disorder. They are trained and have a specific approach to provide a comfortable experience for those affected by hoarding disorder. This collaborative approach will lead to more meaningful and long-lasting results for your loved one. 

Getting Treatment for Chronic Disorganization 

Just like hoarding disorder, having a third party come in and clean up everything isn’t the answer. While it can alleviate symptoms of clutter, you will get disorganized again if you don’t understand how to organize for your specific lifestyle. 

The key to helping those with CD is finding a system that works best for them. 

A professional organizer who is trained to work with those with CD can help. They are trained in research-based techniques to provide a holistic approach to treating CD. 

During the process it is important to find someone that understands that different people need to organize in different ways. To that end, an integrative approach is a great way to understand how organizing your stuff will benefit other areas in your life, we call this SHiFT™.

The best way to treat both CD and hoarding disorder is to approach your loved one with understanding and care first. The next step is to find the right specialists for proper care. 

Where to Find a Certified Professional Organizer in Hoarding Disorder or Chronic Disorganization

Not all professional organizers are certified to effectively help and work with those affected by hoarding disorder or CD, but there are resources available to help you find an organizer in your area. 

The Institute of Challenging Disorganization has a directory to find qualified organizers in your area. For those affected by hoarding disorder, the OCD foundation is a great resource for more information, therapists, and support groups. 

At Livable Spaces, we believe in a holistic approach to those affected by hoarding disorder or CD. In order to provide the best help, we don’t just focus on the clutter. We focus on the person as a whole and help them create a SHiFT™ in their life in multiple ways: 

  • Social life 
  • Health
  • I am Deserving (Self-worth)
  • Finances
  • Time 

Located in Concord, California, Livable Spaces is certified in both hoarding disorder and chronic disorganization. If you’re looking to get help for yourself or your loved one, schedule a call today and we can help you or your loved one begin their journey to a livable space. 

Warmly, 

Jen

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